Is Alaska Primary a Preview of GOP's November? Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski suffered a huge defeat in the state's Republican primary on Tuesday, finishing third in the three-way race with just 18 percent of the vote. Does Murkowski's loss signal trouble ahead for GOP incumbents in November's midterm elections?

Is Alaska Primary a Preview of GOP's November?

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up: one determined man, one mock FEMA trailer, and one meeting with the president at the White House.

CHADWICK: Politics is our lead story today, and political messages from around the country that the Bush administration may be reading. There were primary elections in several states yesterday. In Wyoming, Democrats renominated that state's popular governor Democrat David Freudenthal.

BRAND: In Oklahoma, the lieutenant governor, Mary Fallin, won the Republican primary for an open congressional seat. She hopes to become the first woman Oklahoma has sent to Congress in more than eight decades.

CHADWICK: And then there's Alaska where Frank Murkowski - a former senator and the state's current governor running for reelection - finished third in a three-way Republican primary.

We're joined by Washington Post political reporter Dana Milbank. Dana, third in a three-way race for the incumbent governor? What does that say?

Mr. DANA MILBANK (Reporter, The Washington Post): Well, I guess it beats fourth. Well, what it says is that he had been particularly unpopular there in part because he had appointed his daughter to his old seat in the United States Senate, and a lot of people perceived that as an obvious gesture of nepotism. Now what's interesting is it hasn't hurt her, but it definitely hurt her old man.

CHADWICK: So he actually was the senator. He ran for the governor's office, won that, thereby vacating his Senate seat and appointed his daughter to fill it. Not a good thing for a career move.

Mr. MILBANK: No, no. I mean, it would work in a sort of a hereditary monarchy, but Alaska has given that up in recent years.

CHADWICK: So is this part of an anti-incumbent trend, or is this just Frank Murkowski made a big mistake?

Mr. MILBANK: Well, it's some of each. There is, you know, if you look at what happened on the other side with Joe Lieberman, you look at Murkowski, and you look at polls showing Democrats - the minority party having somewhere around a 12 percentage point advantage coming up to these midterm elections. And you say, yes, there's a rather large sort of anti-incumbent feeling out there, which could be a huge problem for the Republicans.

But you have to temper that with the fact that so very few seats are actually in play - so that even if there is something of a big wave, it doesn't really wipe out everybody. And the people who handicap these races say it's still likelier than not that the Republicans remain in power in both the House and the Senate.

Now, we're getting to a point where they're starting to say it could go either way. But under no scenario were we picturing a major Democratic majority in the House or the Senate.

CHADWICK: Dana, Senator John McCain appeared yesterday with another incumbent fighting to stay in office: Ohio Senator Mike DeWine. And the senator kind of went through a list or a kind of the rhetoric that the Bush administration -senior leaders in the administration - have used about Iraq.

He said mission accomplished. Last throws. A few dead-enders. And he went on to say I'm more familiar with those statements than anyone because it grieves me so much that we've not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be. That's pretty sharp criticism from Senator McCain.

Mr. MILBANK: It sure is. But watch what he's not saying, and that is that the war in Iraq is a mistake, or that we should be pulling out of there. What he's doing is very cleverly getting behind the national sentiment - sort of, three in five Americans really turning against the war. But since he's been, you know, very clearly ideologically behind the war, he's saying right. What I'm objecting to is the way the Bush administration implemented things.

And there he's really got a solid backing of the American public behind him. People are split on what to do about it. Are we better off staying there or pulling out? But the people seem to be solidifying behind the view that it is become something of a debacle.

CHADWICK: And how are they splitting on the question of President Bush's responsibility for that? I'll just note one more political story. The president is appearing tonight at a fundraiser with Senator George Allen of Virginia, who got in trouble over the last couple of weeks because he used this term Macaca -possibly a racial slur - against a campaign aide for his challenger, a man of Indian descent.

But Senator Allen is going ahead to appear with the president.

Mr. MILBANK: Well, he is, but he's appearing with the president in a private home that is close to the press. So there won't be the actual photographs of the two men together.

It's Virginia, so it's not a place where the president is particularly unpopular. But both men have some sort of risk involved there. And, of course, George Allen's looking beyond this election season hoping to succeed President Bush in the White House. But obviously, his loose lips recently have made a big problem for him.

CHADWICK: Dana Milbank, political reporter for the Washington Post where he writes the Washington sketch column. Dana, thank you.

Mr. MILBANK: Thanks, Alex.

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